TOTAL EXPERIENCE explores designing for experience: its theory, its practice, and how designing for experiences affects us socially and in our personal lives.


  • Bob Jacobson
  • Paula Thornton
  • BOB JACOBSON is fascinated by the experience of experience. A planner and technologist, Bob has a Ph.D. in Urban Planning & Design from UCLA. He's been a policy researcher, technology CEO, science writer, and consultant. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied cellular telephony's impacts on transborder communities in the Nordic Arctic Circle. Bob edited Information Design (MIT Press 2000) and is now writing a book on the theory and practice of creating edifying, transformative experiences.
    ( Archive | Contact Bob )
    CORANTE PAULA THORNTON says, "Understanding human behavior (economics), optimizing interactions (design) and facilitating conversations (markets), are the means to achieve strategic differentiation. This is the focus of our discipline. It is not a 'nice to have'‚ and is not, like documentation once was, an afterthought. It is the means by which to start a strategic discussion and the means by which to drive a tactical initiative. All design should be evidence-based."
    ( Archive | Contact Paula ) >

    (Courtesy of Mark Vanderbeeken, Experientia SpA, Torino)

    Experience Design Websites
    Core 77 Website & Forum
    Business Week|Innovate
    InfoD: Understsanding by Design
    The Wayfinding Place
    Wayfinding Focus
    Design Addict
    L-ARCH (Landscape Architecture Mailing List)
    DUX 2007 Conference
    Digital Thread
    Enmeshed, Digital Arts & New Media
    Ludology (Game Playing Theory)
    Captology, Persuasive Computing
    Space and Culture
    Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces
    timet (acoustical design)
    Steve Portigal, Ethnographer
    Jane McGonigal's Avant Game
    Ted Wells' living : simple
    PingMag (Japan)

    Experience Design Blogs
    Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
    Experience Designer Network (Brian Alger)
    SmartSpace: Annotated Environments (Scott Smith)
    Don Norman
    Doors of Perception (John Thackara)
    Karl Long's Experience Curve
    Work•Play•Experience (Adam Lawrence)
    The David Report (David Carlson)
    Design & Emotion (Marco van Hout)
    Museum 2.0 (Nina Simon)
    B J Fogg
    Lorenzo Brusci (acoustics)
    Cool Town Studios
    Steve Portigal
    Debbie Millman
    MIT Culture Convergence Consortium
    Luke Wroblewski, Functioning Form|Interface Design
    Adam Richardson
    Putting People First (Paul Vanderbeeken/Experientia
    Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda)
    Challis Hodge's UX Blog
    Anne Galloways's Purse Lips Square Jaw
    Bruno Giussani's Lunch over IP
    Jane McGonigal's Avant-Game The Future of Work

    Experience Design Podcasts
    Ted Wells' living : simple Podcast
    Design Matters Podcast, Debbie Millman
    Icon-o-Cast Podcast, Lunar Design

    Experience Design Firms and ED-Oriented Manufacturers
    Barry Howard Limited
    Hilary Cottam
    LRA Worldwide, Inc.
    BRC Imagination Arts
    Stone Mantel
    Experientia s.r.l
    Herman Miller
    Cooper Interactive Design
    Doblin Group
    Fit Associates
    Strategic Horizons LLC (Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore)
    Cheskin Fresh Perspectives

    Education and Advocacy
    Centre for Design Research, Northumbria University (UK)
    Center for Design Research, Stanford University
    International Institute of Information Design (IIID)
    Design Management Institute
    Interaction Institute IVREA
    Design Research Institute (UK)
    UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Design Research
    History of Consciousness, UCSC
    Design News Magazine
    Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD)
    Design Museum London
    Center for Sustainable Design
    Horizon Zero, Digital Arts+Culture in Canada
    Design Council UK
    First Monday

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    December 29, 2006

    My apologies for a slow week; ahead, a critical review, "The State of Experience Design"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson many in Southern California, last week I contracted a trilogy of viruses that took me out of action until now.

    Thanks to TE co-author Paula Thornton for holding down the fort with her provocative postings. For the New Year, I'll be jumping back on the horse, bareback, with a critical review, "The State of Experience Design."

    Meanwhile, I hope you're having a happy holiday season. Out here, we celebrated the Winter Solstice and Santa Lucia, two Scandinavian occasions of spiritual import I experienced in Sweden; personal experiences never to be forgotten. And already, it's the Baby New Year knocking at the door!

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: TE Blog

    December 24, 2006

    CRM: Can't Remember Much

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Having come through the ranks of CRM activities before becoming 'more enlightened', I wanted to compare and contrast the difference in thinking between the disciplines of CRM and Experience Design. As a caveat, I still firmly believe that the fundamentals of CRM are sound -- the problem is in the way it has been spun by so many vendors and blindly adopted by too many people who are in over their heads in their job roles.

    With due respect and gratitude for the level of effort it takes to put together an event, the comparison has been framed around a replayable webinar "5 Keys to Customer-Driven Marketing". Also, there are many sound principles introduced here, and should these principles help influence anyone to 'better' thinking, this is to be celebrated. The intent here is to point out, as is an element of their presentation, the gaps which leave significant opportunity untapped. It isn't that CRM (customer relationship marketing) is wrong in any way; it's that it is only a piece of the overall puzzle. The concern is that too many companies are not connecting the pieces of the puzzle.

    There is a fundamental 'flaw' that comes up repeatedly in most CRM initiatives or even in CRM principles: they forget more than they remember. Case in point, one classic CRM initiative (pre-CRM evolution) was MCI's Friends & Family. Through this program MCI rapidly gained large segments of the long-distance market. But there was a problem: The standard telecom business model could not sustain a customer focus. All data was keyed against a BTN: billing telephone number. That is, to the business model, the center of the universe -- the thing to which everything else was tied -- was the billing telephone number. It's all well and fine to willingly accept from customers information about the people they want to maintain relationships with, but if the first time they change phone numbers (ala. "move") all of this information is lost, what value have you provided to the customer?

    Worse, the relationships were valuable information to MCI, but there was other valuable information that customers often shared on customer service calls, but the agents had no means by which to capture all of this 'free' data. Instead, MCI spent millions each year on data from which they would 'extrapolate' what people wanted and/or might desire.

    Unfortunately, this is the primary focus of most CRM initiatives -- trying to predict what people might do, with less attention paid to what they're already doing. The "5 Keys to Customer-Driven Marketing" presentations attempts to rectify some of this, but here again, it's the 'marketing' term that musses up the intent. The principles of marketing as a discipline have come to rely on certain mechanisms for insight: surveys are one of them. While surveys can be useful, they are but one piece of a huge puzzle. The focus of this webinar relies on surveys as a primary input mechanism.

    1. To Know What Customer's Think -- Ask Them
    Notable quote: "We want to do more listening than talking."
    My retort: If you really wanted to listen, as was the case with MCI, you'd be looking at the touchpoints where people are already telling you plenty, but you're not capturing any of it.

    Building upon Peter Senge's principles of continuous learning, and the fundamentals of optimizing life models through feedback loops the goal is to engage in continuous listening. One company which readily embraces this term, iPerceptions, indeed engages in a similar business venture as does the sponsor of the webinar. They are a sharp group of people. But their product approach fails to embrace one critical truth: what people say and what people do are often not congruent. The data gathered from these listening mechanisms has limited value until it is mapped against actual behaviors. [Interestingly, Stanford University has a new field of study related to influencing behaviors called Captology.]

    Lastly, people answer questions within a specific context. Too often, these answers are extrapolated to other contexts for which they may or may not apply. Without additional measures to ensure the 'transferability' of certain data to other contexts, questionable decisions will be made.

    The true value of such data is to help identify what might need deeper research, which then leads to their second point...

    2. Make Customer Feedback Actionable
    Notable Quote: "Understand the 'why'"
    It would fascinate me to see the measurable negative contribution made by surveys to the GNP because of the time wasted by all parties involved (the designers, the implementers, the analysts and the consumers themselves) because the questions asked are either a) not actionable or b) never acted on.

    Surveys cannot answer 'why'. A 'why' is deeply imbedded both in intent and a myriad of variables that play into the economics of decisions. What is disturbing is how many well-heeled companies spend millions on meaningless data or who ignore (take no action) on the most telling data (because either no one is listening or someone is 'hiding' the tell-tale evidence of poor performance).

    3. Understand the Gap Between Importance and Performance
    Gap analysis is recommended along 4 continuums: Customer Service, Product Quality, Salesperson's Knowledge, Timely Delivery.

    Study each of these labels very carefully. Which of them are in the language of the customer? Would any of them directly hold the answer to 'why'?

    I consider such measure important in the same way that you might check a person's blood pressure. The attribute "high" blood pressure is a relative measure based on certain norms. There are conditions in which those norms may be irrelevant. Each company has to use this data to determine what their own 'norm' is. They also have to determine what the elasticity of their norms are. Does attempting to make small changes in a gap, throw the results to another extreme that are more deleterious?

    Such measures are only relevant in trends over time: rates of change. And they are single data points that will prove to have specific correlations to any variety of other valuable variables. What those relationships mean will vary from business to business. They are data points which suggest other research to be conducted.

    4. Make Feedback an Ongoing Activity
    When you look at all the supporting activities which the presentation suggest here, there is a huge correlation made between "Feedback" and "Survey" as if they were one in the same. A survey is a week feedback mechanism, at best: it is neither timely nor contextual.

    It is at this point in the presentation that it is suggested that 'trends' are important in data gathering. It is difficult to gain any significant value from 'trends' of questionable data.

    5. Incorporate Feedback Back into the Business
    Notable Quote: " is about getting the information and creating a continuous learning environment."
    This is the point at which CRM and Experience Design take the biggest divergence. To successfully draw conclusions from the feedback and to determine which actions to take from the feedback require principles of design. There are no inherent principles of design embodied in CRM disciplines.

    Additionally, I have found that when I've looked at the same data as others in a marketing role, we will focus on different points of 'relevance'. Their first instincts will often lead them down a path that is neither substantiated or truly relevant to the customer.

    Lastly, in none of this does it suggest that specific new activities are needed or resources that might be 'differently' trained or have a different perspective than their existing resources -- even if it were just to bring in a resource to help reframe the current way of thinking, for a brief period of time.

    Case Study: Golden Key International Honour Society
    The second part of the webinar is a case study of a non-profit. It is a great example of how good things can come from limited models. They are doing a lot of the right activities in spite of the limitations of above-noted models.

    Notable Quote: "As a new Chief Operating Officer...I asked to see the last survey...what was done with it?...nothing...what did it cost?...somewhere in the neighborhood of $20K...I thought...what a waste."

    To which I thought: Why by repeating the same action would different results be expected? Certainly, there were a lot of improvements made -- there are a lot of improvement opportunities. But as people get better at all of this, the opportunity gaps will diminish. Value will rely on design principles to be applied for true differentiation, principles which rely on a variety of data points carefully positioned to set a more-stable foundation from which to build upon.

    That said, the case study did just that: apply design thinking to the problem space. It showed how surveys can best be implemented in an overall research strategy, but didn’t point out the limitations or the other efforts required. This was all clearly a situation that had potential for ‘more’ should it embody more design principles.

    Closing the loop on the original premise of this piece, one critical principle is a stronger focus on 'memory'. All truly phenomenal experience models are those which either shift or embody the memory of the individual into the relationship, and do so as seamlessly and as unobtrusively as possible. One more notable term raised was “customer intimacy” – truly intimate relationships are those which have deep knowing.

    P.S. the end of the webinar there was a 3-question survey that came up. The first question asked for a rating from 1 to 5, only no context was given as to the scale for the rating (was 1 or 5 high?). Such is a classic example of why surveys are so fraught with problems and how the data from them can lead to bad decisions.

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    December 21, 2006

    December 19, 2006

    Books about experience for your holiday gifts

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    'Tis the season for holiday extravagance, and not just in the Western world. People of every persuasion (even atheists) accord the Winter Solstice great importance, whether experienced in its pure form or as an institutionalized religious ritual. For many of us, this season is an opportunity to exchange gifts and thus reinforce important social relations. Gifts given at other times probably have more significance and power, but giving during Year's End is a de minimus requirement. Staying with the prevailing norms, here are the handful of books, the most memorable among those that have helped me to understand experience. You might want to give one or more to someone special, to explain what you do -- or simply give them to yourself, for your own enjoyment.

    Each of the books in my small sample have a common property: none is a how-to book, nor (in my opinion) even specific to a discipline. Each has reached far, across space and time, to talk generally about experience. I've linked them to Amazon in most cases, but often the authors' own websites and smaller online booksellers offer comparable or better prices. Publishers and dates may be for reprints.

    * * *

    7673030-0-LEducation and Ecstasy, George Leonard (Delacourte 1968). Reading this book changed my life forever. It placed in a much broader context the naive understanding of experience I was accumulating through my empirical work as an advertising creative director and public-access video producer. Experience design is all about how technology, physical and emotional experiences, and education interact to produce learning, creativity, and edification. For Leonard, deeply associated with the human potential movement, creating meaningful experiences on the personal level became his life's work. I'm more into cultural enhancement -- but Leonard's motivations and goals have become my own.

    1582341001.01.LzzzzzzzThe Atlas of Experience, Louise van Swaaij and Jean Klare (Bloomsbury 2000). “Welcome to the Sea of Possibilities, the Ocean of Peace, the Stream of Inspiration, the Volcanoes of Passion....” This is the ultimate wayfinding book, depicting in cartographic form the essential experiences that come with being human. It's fascinating (and thought-provoking) to see how the authors, Dutch cartographers, arrange emotions, aspirations, conditions, etc., clustering them into continents of meaning, and then use the conventions of mapmaking to call out the details. The maps are utterly compelling.

    0679735666.01.Lzzzzzzz-1A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman (Vintage 1991). Diane Ackerman, poet, naturalist, crisis advisor, provides a memorable tour of the human sensorium. Not just about science, Ackerman's lyrical essays delve into the everyday consequences of having five senses (and maybe more), including the personal, professional, and commercial. Her descriptions are insightful and themselves extremely sensuous. Whenever I need an uplifting experience, I pull this book down from the shelf, randomly choose a sense, and see what Ackerman has to say about it. She's never disappointing.

    Poetics Of SpaceThe Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard (Beacon Press 1994). Bachelard, a phenomenologist, examines our relationship with space as an experience of “knowing.” From Wikipedia: “Bachelard applies the method of phenomenology to architecture basing his analysis not on purported origins (as was the trend in enlightenment thinking about architecture) but on lived experience of architecture. He is thus led to consider spatial types such as the attic, the cellar, drawers and the like. This book implicitly urges architects to base their work on the experiences it will engender rather than on abstract rationales that may or may not affect viewers and users of architecture.” Indelibly within me are the images Poetics paints with words.

    C991Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino (Harvest 1976). Epochal accomplishments in the history of the Universe, built entirely on problematic science, beginning with the invention of matter (learn the significance of rust in Australia). Each is magically told in Calvino's uniquely naive, uniquely philosophical voice, speaking through the being Qfwfq, who seems an awful lot like God with more questions than answers, and who's all intellectual thumbs. I have a collection of Calvino reprints, including Imaginary Cities. They form a combined encyclopedia-gazeteer of the world seen and related at its most weird and wonderful.

    0262620014The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch (MIT Press 1960). This landmark volume marks the beginning of wayfinding's application to modern architecture. Lynch presents a taxonomy of elements that comprise the visual urban environment related to the haptic, cognitive, and emotional responses each engenders. His human-centric approach set the stage for modern urban design, including novel ways of mapping urban form and formations. Lynch avoids stating preferences in this volume, but is more explicit in the later Good City Form.

    Richard Saul Wurman-ThumbWhat-If, Could-Be: An Historic Fable of the Future, Richard Wurman (Self-published, 1976) A portrait of Wurman the young visionary, this is Wurman's first publication and he says, his favorite. Illustrated by R.O. Blechman in comic book format and printed on scratchy grey paper, WICB follows the Commissioner of Curiosity as he explores the urban milieu, reviewing foibles we take for granted and revealing radical ideas for making life better. “Everyone spoke of an information overload, but what there was in fact was a non-information overload,” the Commissioner sighs. WICB was prescient in 1976 and remains true today. If you find an online copy, let me know. Mine is dog-eared.

    0375761381.01.LzzzzzzzAlice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (Signet Classics 2000). Everyone knows Alice, but relatively few have actually read this surrealistic pair of stories. The movie about the books focused on Carroll's relationship with the girl he imagined as Alice, but as works of art, they are totally coherent -- if you're willing to go with it. Carroll is a pre-Jungian: his archetypes speak not only to people we know, but about the state of the nation and the state of the world, as Gaia-esque über-realities with lives of their own. We can participate so long as we believe.

    0202307662.01.MzzzzzzzImage and Environment: Cognitive Mapping and Spatial Behavior, Roger M. Downs and David Stea (Transaction 2005). David Stea was a valued advisor and mentor at UCLA's renowned, late-Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Planning, where eclecticism was encouraged. Using maps drawn by inhabitants of Los Angeles who reside in different parts of the city (circa 1970s, when the book was published), David and his colleague Roger Downs demonstrated that every place has many faces. With each wave of new residents and technological complications, the number of kaleidoscopic facets increases. The city is in our heads as well as under our wheels and feet.

    Alexander Pattern LanguageA Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander (Oxford University Press 1977). When Alexander challenged his Berkeley architecture students to collect and organize impressions of the built environment, it's likely no one knew in advance, and probably only Alexander suspected, that the result would be a surprisingly consistent “pattern” of forms and relationships. This book can be read as a reference describing elements of the built environment at every scale -- from the region to the cubbyhole -- or as a collection of poetic statements about space itself, and the meanings that we give to the things that fill it, natural and synthetic. The Pattern Language is a physics of spatiality.

    13172The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in the Human Environment, Lawrence Halprin (George Braziller 1970). Famed for his innovative, organic developments -- notably, Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast -- Halprin went one step further when he borrowed his wife Anna's choreographic methods to describe how architected landscapes can be collectively planned, created, and evolved. The RSVP Cycle itself has four stages: mustering of Resources, composition of Scores that describe the coming performance, determination of Valuactions (actions based on values), and the actual doing of the Performance -- in this case, crafting the architected landscape. The RSVP Cycle has become popular beyond landscape architecture, but the concept of scoring -- of immense potential value to experience design -- remains sadly unexploited.

    0679776192Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-Fu Feng, photos by Jane English (Vintage 1997). Some people keep a Bible or Qu'ran at bedside; I keep the Tao Te Ching -- not for heavenly guidance, but for its wisdom. A contemporary of Confucius, the monk Lao Tsu, sick of the turmoil that characterized his China, penned this volume, then mounted his ox and rode off into the hills, never to be seen again. The notion of cosmic balance, of justice tempered by compassion, of non-resistance as the source of strength -- these and many other essential understandings are best expressed in the Tao Te Ching. The book itself features elegant Chinese text, resonant translations by Feng and reflective photography by English.

    SpaceplaceSpace and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan (University of Minnesota Press, 1977, Edward Arnold 1979). A proponent of “humanistic geography, Tuan's prose is clear and down to earth, without losing a sense of wonder at how ingeniously human beings organize their physical world. In a subsequent book, Tuan terms this relationship in its ideal form as topophilia -- love for the physical world -- ”defined widely so as to include all emotional connections between physical environment and human beings.“ Space and Place is more commonplace (no pun intended), but also more universally appreciable. It's the prism through which I see the world.

    Expanded CinemaExpanded Cinema, Gene Youngblood (E.P. Dutton 1970). I remember when ”multimedia“ meant a spool of slides fed through a classroom projector to the accompaniment of a 78 RPM phonograph record. Not that long ago. Then film and portable video started intruding themselves on our consciousness which was simultaneously being raised by exposure to new ideas and altered consciousness, which form the basis of Gene's thinking about the future of multimedia. Today's raves are loving, nostalgic tributes to the psychedelic happenings that framed Youngblood's work. (He and I taught a memorable, highly subversive class at UCLA's film school one semester. No one came out the same.) Rereading EC today, I'm struck by how much of it relates to the new media, in ways that current theorists can't. Gene's in New Mexico teaching away.

    1892907054.01. Sclzzzzzzz Sl160 The Whole Earth Catalogue, 30th Edition, Peter Warshall and Steward Brand, editors (Whole Earth 1998). Its appearance in 1968 foretold today's rampant eclecticism, but the WEC itself was a masterpiece of taxonomy. The most amazing objects, culled from catalogs around the world -- remember, this was before the Internet made collecting information something that three-year-olds can do -- were combined in categories with stories told by witnesses to history, visionaries, world travelers, and just plain folks with tales about living a good life. The WEC was illustrated mainly in pen and ink, with a plentitude of charts and rough photographs on recycled paper. The editors come as close to putting the whole Earth into a single volume as ever's been done.

    116An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, James Jerome Gibson (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 1987). J.J. Gibson coined the term ”affordances“ to describe how people get a handle on their environment and what's possible within it. This is what has stuck with interaction designers who use Gibson's theory to support their practice. Fair enough. But for Gibson, perception and cognition are universal, fluid properties of being, the flux of individuals and groups interacting with and within holistic social ”ecologies.“ Gibson's philosophical invention, ecological psychology, became the basis for a more formal environmental psychology invaluable to forming critical perspectives on design, experience design in particular.

    0226468046Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, George Lakoff (University of Chicago Press 1990). At an international gathering of geographers I attended in 1994, Lakoff was the guest and Queen Bee. He related linguistic metaphors -- encoded meanings and archetypes -- to geographical understanding in ways that tripped out the geographers. This book, whose title refers to tribal metaphors, ignited the controversy. (Lakoff has since published many more books that delve more deeply into linguistics in other realms, like politics.) If my memory serves me, George told us that cultures have in common 80 percent of their metaphors and that most of these are spatial -- ”over the hill,“ ”around the bend,“ ”slippery slope,“ and so forth. It's the remaining 20 percent of unique differences that create all the trouble. Why can't we get over them?

    Heuristics And Biases
    Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Thomas Gilovich, Dale Griffin, and Daniel Kahneman, eds. (Cambridge University Press 2002). Despite the obsession for analytics displayed by scientists, engineers, software developers, managers, and marketers, in fact most people make decisions on far less formal grounds. Not that they aren't logical, it's just that their logic is different. Intuitive judgment isn't about mysticism, it's about how the human mind shortcuts analysis to arrive at decisions that often are superior to analytically formed conclusions -- but not always. This collection is the reference text for understanding heuristics based on the latest, best research at the time of its publication.

    Alexandria QuartetThe Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (Dutton, 1962; Faber & Faber 2001). Reading the Quartet aloud to one another night after night for nearly six months, living the dream, my partner and I bonded. Durrell, painting panoramas in his matchless poetic prose, directs a cast of heroes and heroines, villains, and events in the 1940s leading to today's tormented Middle East. He centers his vision on backwater Alexandria, once the capital of the Eastern Mediterranean. Durrell called the Quartet's volumes -- Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea (all characters in the story) -- an experiment in post-Relativity storytelling: the first volume is told in first person, the second in second person, the third in third person, and the fourth again in first person, each with new revelations. Nothing is quite what it seems as one perspective gives way to another. Life as experienced.

    And of course, the story of gifting itself:

    ThegiftThe Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde (Vintage 1983). Recycling gifts is one of the strongest bonds among members of a tribe or a community. Hyde begins this classic work with a review of art as property and gift, but then verges widely into discussions of anthropology, economics, and communications, describing the role of gifts in sustaining tribal relations necessary for survival -- and pleasure. (The Native American potlatch, outlawed by the conquering Europeans until recently, was secretly practiced by its adherents at great peril because it was so essential to their sense of self-worth and possibility.) Hyde thoroughly examines the concept of the ”gift economy“ and finds it more capable than capitalism as glue that can hold a society together. Read him and then happily give your gifts, knowing that you are in close communion with one of the oldest and most human tendencies: the need to share.

    Comments (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience

    December 13, 2006

    “Why online should be off limits in the bedroom” (Globe and Mail)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    539091 Computer Love'Tis the season to be merry: If you want peace on earth, especially at home, Leah McLaren, in “Why online should be off limits in the bedroom,” published in Saturday's Globe & Mail, makes a good case for unplugging the wireless over the holidays. She writes (in part):

    There is a new gender war brewing in the salty trenches of heterosexual relations, and it centres, as so many skirmishes do, on the bedroom.

    It's about men who bring their laptops into bed with them. And I don't mean once in a while, to Google up a bit of porn or do a lick of work while convalescing with a life-threatening illness (both of which are obviously perfectly reasonable reasons to bring a computer to bed).

    I mean men who use their laptops whenever they are in bed, provided they are not sleeping or having sex . . . or dead. From the moment they put on their jammies and snuggle up at night, and then again in the morning with the first eyelid's flicker, the laptop is there. Bluish screen a-glow, battery a-purr, the tippity-tap of the keyboard sounding out a grim, Morse-code lullaby, entitled The Death of Pillow Talk.

    It's welcome news for men, of course. I know it's rude to generalize and probably bad for my relationship too, but what the hell. Men -- whether they admit it or not -- avoid pillow talk. The reason is simple: While snuggling and giggling and chatting in bed often leads to sex, more often than not, it also leads to more in-depth talk. And more in-depth talk leads to serious talk, which quickly gets converted into serious plans, which leads to making choices, which leads to not choosing other things, which leads to a feeling of vague, unshakable entrapment, which leads to misery, which leads to death.

    So as any rational, emotionally actualized contemporary male knows, it is therefore a perfectly reasonable and acceptable practice to bring an electronic digital communication device into bed with you, right?

    Okay now, seriously. We need to talk about this. Not just me and my (admittedly technologically addicted) bed companion. We all collectively need to put our computers down and have a Serious Talk. I know, it's stuff like this that drove you to cling to your laptop, your hot, rectangular teddy bear, in the first place, but hear me out.

    I'm not sure exactly when or why reading e-mail, watching video clips, checking sports statistics, downloading pirated music or, in the case of one female friend's nerdy husband, downloading 30-page essays on Spinoza at 4 in the morning, became normal bed practice, but it's got to stop.

    I offer no defense for my gender-mates, but merely point out that this malady certainly is not limited to heterosexual couples. It afflicts same-sex couples too, and polygamists. Frankly, there are times when, alone in bed, I resent my own use of the computer. If not pillow talk, at least sleep deserves equal consideration!

    (Photo by Zela, on Stock.Xchng)

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    Time Warner Communications gets customer experience right

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Too few companies get customer experience right. “Customer experience” is a hidden component of experience design, how an organization -- governmental, commercial, or membership -- employs social processes, standards for employee interactions with customers and the like, to enhance and deepen relationships with its customers, constituents, or members. It's common these days for organizations to rely on market researchers, ethnographers, communication experts, and CRM (customer relationship management) technology to develop complex systems for improving the customer experience. But often, a simple phone call or email communication with a customer is more effective and easier to implement on a continuous basis. This simple method requires a motivated staff that knows its customers inside and out.

    Time Warner CableBut some companies do get it right. A case in point: Time Warner Cable (TWC). In this regard, in the past, large communication companies have been no one's favorites. The The phone companies', TV networks', and early cable TV operators' past poor management of customer experience -- a vice of which cellular phone companies are now most guilty -- has tainted the image of all communication providers. But my recent experience with TWC was definitely heartening.

    My lovely city and hometown, Santa Monica -- now often referred to as “Hollywood West,” for all the media that's moved here in the last decade -- used to be served by Adelphia Cable, a company that provided high-quality service for its customers but not enough profits for its shareholders. (Its owners were convicted of various crimes having to do with financial mismanagement.) Adelphia declared bankruptcy. Recently, it was purchased by TWC. According to all accounts, the switchover strained TWC to the limit. The company did well alerting customers to the coming customer handoff, including telling us about future inspections to ensure proper infrastructure. It did less well, however -- in fact, it did terribly -- preparing us for outages and downtime associated with actual technology porting of its cable TV and Internet services. Also, the changeover of billing and service-order methods confused customers who had little or no warning about the changes. Lastly, the cantankerous but user-friendly Moxi boxes provided by Adelphia to cable TV viewers were swapped out for generic Motorola DVRs, with a loss of navigation and content on which Adelphia customers had become accustomed. All of these taken together resulted in a tidal wave of customer inquiries and complaints that even the City of Santa Monica's telecom officers were unable to staunch. The transitional staff's answer: voicemail and endless waits online, which added fuel to the blaze, not just here but in many cities where TWC was assuming ownership of cable TV systems.

    Cherie and I were two among thousands of TWC's unhappy new Santa Monica customers, many of whom are media industry influentials. A new California law allows telephone companies to provide video service, and many of us, forgetting our past experiences with the phone companies, were seriously considering them as providers. Imagine customer service so bad that it made TWC's inept phone-industry competitors like AT&T (the former SBC) and Verizon (the former General Telephone) look good!

    imagine my pleasure, then, at receiving a personal call from TWC's VP of Community Affairs, Patricia Fregoso-Cox. (The call was arranged by Kate Vernais in Santa Monica's City Manager's Office, to whom I personally complained.) A former Adelphia corporate officer, Patricia told me she was proud of the service Adelphia had maintained despite its stressed financial circumstances and alarmed at the state of affairs as TWC took over. Her answer wasn't to call in consultants. Instead, she seized the bull by the horns and start talking with city officials and their constituents about improving TWC's service in Santa Monica and Southern California generally -- not just the technical service, but the customer experience, too. Patricia told me about TWC's plans to cut response time on the phone and online, explain how the new system works, and even implement a new service that will replace the now-missing navigational assists that Moxi boxes formerly provided for cable TV viewers. Once having done that, it was time to engage technical staff in creating the necessary CRM.

    Patricia was even open to discussing an idea I've had for a long time, since my days as a telecom analyst for the California Legislature: to use the company's cable TV and Internet assets to alert consumers of each when one or the other service was going down. An email to cable TV customers or a visual state-of-the-system on a cable TV channel and the TWC website, informing us of planned maintenance and outages, would go a long way toward dampening dischord among customers (now, almost all of us) who rely on their cable TV for entertainment and information, and their Internet service for conducting business. Patricia further referred a specific problem we were having to a task force empowered to deal with problems, all part of TWC's customer-experience learning process.

    Everything's not fixed yet, but it's getting better. I suspect that most customers who now know the score, like me, will cut TWC some slack, even look forward to coming service improvements. Thanks, TWC and Patricia.

    If you'd like to stay informed of developments in the customer experience arena, check out Karl Long's avant-garde blog on the subject, Experience Curve, and Mark Hurst's always thoughtful Good Experience.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | The Practice of Experience Design

    December 11, 2006

    My unexpected experience as a “disabled driver”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    DpautocomlI had an unexpected experience while tooling around in my dad's car, which bears Disabled Person plates (like the one illustrated) that allow you to park in marked blue slots.

    Drivers around me were taking notice, but not with any special solicitousness or care. Instead, they were tailgating, then speeding to pass, then slowing down; or in other ways being reckless. It's as if my DP plates identified me as a person unfit to be on the road, someone to be avoided, even scorned. Note, I'm an excellent driver. I haven't had an accident or received a citation in a couple of decades -- and I drive relatively fast and decisively, as I learned to do in driver education courses, to avoid vague situations that lead to accidents.

    People in wheelchairs often report similar experiences of disdain, although pedestrians (drivers without wheels) tend to be more forgiving, maybe because they couldn't walk any faster even if they pushed the wheelchair passenger out of the way.

    It makes me wonder: do we do disabled persons a favor by having them bear these plates, for the small return of having supposedly easier parking? (It never seems easier to me.) Or do we do it to assuage social guilt, all the while resenting the travel friction that disabled persons allegedly impose on the rest of us (and taking it out on them when possible)? Or to warn other drivers away? My sensitivity has been raised. Every driver should be required to get behind the wheel of a DP-plated vehicle sometime.

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    December 8, 2006

    We need theories of experience design

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    In few other fields is so much reliance placed on first-hand, insider accounts as a source of knowledge, as in the various fields of experience design. The one exception, historically, has been the built environment, including architecture and landscape architecture. Otherwise, most of what we learn we learn from design practitioners, even if they have no personal agenda, is subject to their biases that inherently come with the job: idiosyncratic points of view, client pressures, career aspirations, ego, and so forth. We lack an objective perspective to measure the success of our work and commentaries to improve upon it. We need theories of experience design.

    64Worldsfair 12This realization came to me during an intense luncheon discussion with museum and exhibition designer Barry Howard, who practices in Marina del Rey, a suburb of Los Angeles. Barry is my ideal of an experience design. His self-effacing demeanor belies an incredible lifetime of accomplishment. Barry's career dates back to the highly regarded Coca-Cola Pavilion at the 1964 Worlds Fair (where Pepsi-Cola competed with “it's a small world,” now immortalized as a Disneyland attraction). Since then he's created attractions with a cumulative value of over $500 million. Barry is notably rare among experience designers in that he applies a reflective perspective to his work. (He calls it “academic,” although his training was as a fine artist.) I'll be doing a future interview with Barry, in which I'll get deeper into his experiences and insights. But one of lunchtime topics was worth separate mention: the lack of formal criticism in our field.

    I was sharing with Barry my plans for a forthcoming book on experience design. In it, I'll be highlighting best practices drawn from case studies in a variety of experience-design disciplines. My goal is to extract certain overarching principles and methodologies that can be synthesized as theories of experience design. Theories are important: they're tested short-cuts to knowledge that can be shared widely within the experience design community, including with new designers just setting out. If you think about it, it's pretty difficult to state a theory of experience design. Theories are rare in every design discipline, but in those where theories exist -- like the theory of taxonomical structure in information design or wayfinding theory in environmental design -- they're reliable guides to practice. Experience design is still considered mainly an art, because (in my opinion) of a radical disconnect between those who study experience (cognitive scientists, environmental psychologists, etc.) and the designers who create experiences. Sometimes I think that designers' ignorance of the pertinent science is almost willful, because science imposes constraints that require more than shoot-from-the-hip creativity to succeed. On the other hand, it may just be that designers are practicing remarkable heuristic feats, doing the science in their heads. (All of this goes for the ancillary professions marshalled to support designers, too, like ethnographers and market researchers.)

    In any case, Barry made the astute observation that if I lined up these case studies side by side and compared them, what would be most interesting would be, not what was common practice, but what wasn't common practice -- that is, the designs that didn't get done because Designer A didn't consider, or perhaps even know about, the experiences of Designers B or C; and vice versa. Everyone is so heads down pondering solutions and cranking out work -- strictly within disciplinary silos -- that whatever synthesis might take place or transcendent solutions found, doesn't take place or aren't found. Experience designers need a broader, interdisciplinary knowledge, but they haven't time or resources to gain it. This isn't news: I wrote about it in an unpublished article for the AIGA Advance for Design magazine, in 1999, when the now-defunct Advance was striving to become an experience design community. The article wasn't published because, I think, it was critical -- and because I really had no answers for providing that broader point of view, at the time. Now I think I do. Our field needs outside observers, formally trained critics who can remark on what we do without the burden of being a practitioner per se.

    I know, it sound pointy-headed to advocate formal criticism. Mark Hurst, in an email exchange, argued that first-person accounts by “do-ers” are inevitably more informative than critiques by non-practitioners. To a certain extent, he's right: if you want to practice as an experience designer, you need to learn how to hold your pencil from someone who knows. But if you want to practice highly effectively, you need to see things kaleidoscopically, including from the perspective of individual “experiencers” and society collectively. Formal critics provide this context for films, TV shows, product reviews, Web experiences, theater, architecture, advertising, musical performances and recordings, and innumerable other outcomes of cognate activities; and they're better for it. Why not experience design?

    Barry said that his exhibition designs are his art. Never do we want to give up the power of personal expression. But if we can alloy it with a deeper understanding of what experiences are and how they are invoked, how much smarter experience design will be. It's still not a popular cause. No one's getting hired by experience design firms to criticize their work. But one day, they will be. And that's when experience design will fully come into its own.

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    December 5, 2006

    Information Design redux

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The importance of information design (ID) as a discipline with much to loan other design disciplines -- especially those that deal with human-human and human-system communication -- was brought home to me by two events.

    The first event is happening as I write: a passionate, even fierce conversation taking place online among the practitioners of information architecture (IA), a subset of ID that deals almost exclusively with Web design. (You can read a summary of the argument with numerous comments and links to other blogs on the IA website, Bokardo, “Thoughts on the Impending Death of Information Architecture.”) The IA practitioners tend to agree that the contours of that discipline, all wrapped up with computer interaction, are becoming confining, though they are at odds how to liberate themselves from these strictures: Change the name of the practice? Change the practice? Or give it up entirely for other pursuits?

    For a decade, IA eclipsed ID, Web design being a lot more glamorous (and for a time, more lucrative) than designing mundane artifacts like signage or brochures (the ID legacy). Now ID is looking quite attractive as an overarching discipline absolutely relevant to IAs -- and other designers -- pushing the envelope of their professions.

    SbdiThe second event was receiving an unexpected but welcome invitation from Carla Spinella, an editor of InfoDesign, the journal of the Brazilian Society of Information Design (SBDI) to attend and keynote the Third Information Design International Conference 2007 taking place next year in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil, October 11-13. I presume the invitation honors the contributors to a book I edited, Information Design (MIT Press 2000), who together described the applications of information design principles to fields as varied as exhibition design, the design of learning methodologies, architectural wayfinding, interaction design, book design, media design, and about a dozen others. Information Design sold out and went to a second printing on the basis of audience expectations as much as what it delivered. The Brazilian conference's broad themes -- education, science and technology, cultural effects, etc. -- demonstrate the pervasive influence of ID everywhere in the world.

    Two other conferences with long-established traditions complete next year's official ID trilogy. (There are many smaller events, of course. See the excellent
    InfoDesign website and news digest for a calendar.):

    Logo1-V3The Information Design Conference 2007 hosted by the Information Design Association in the UK takes place March 29-30, 2007, in Greenwich, London. “Our overall aim this year,” reports the IDA, the first national information design professional organization, “is to construct an eclectic event, particularly strong on interdisciplinary learning and practice. The purpose, as ever, is to share ideas about how to make information easier to understand, in such diverse fields as..

    • Government and administration
    • Healthcare and health promotion
    • Technical instruction and user guides
    • Reference and learning materials
    • Transport information and wayfinding/showing
    • Forms and transaction interfaces
    • Financial and billing information
    • Web and interface design

    Iiid LogoThe IIID Vision Plus 12 Symposium, taking place in Schwarzenberg, Austria, July 5-7, 2007, ”Information Design -- Achieving Measurable Results.“ It's hosted by the International Institute for Information Design. The theme for Vision Plus 12 is ”measurement“: how can we measure and quantify the impact and results of informational communication? This has become a hot topic both in business and academia, a daunting challenge. Vision Plus 12 will explore this controversial question from all sides:

    • How and to what extent can we measure the success of a given work?
    • How do we quantify the role and impact of intangibles like design?
    • What techniques and technologies can be used to get measurable results?
    • How are information designers building the necessary metrics into their projects?

    The IIID, headquartered in Vienna, is a nonprofit organization partnered with several national ID organizations (in the US, the AIGA). It's also the the driving force behind initiatives to establish an Information Design University under the auspices of UNESCO (similar to the Experience Design Institute championed on this blog). The IIID ID Summer Academy, in the Cape Verde Islands, in August 2007, has as its purposes ” defining the requirements of branding, communication, and related vocational education, enhancing sustainable tourism at the Cape Verde Islands.“

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    December 3, 2006

    CHI 2007 Workshop on User Centered Design and International Development

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Chi2007 Logo

    Via the Experience Design newsgroup, I received the following invitation to the forthcoming Workshop on User Centered Design and International Development, scheduled to take place during CHI 2007 (the annual conference of the ACM special interest group on Computer-Human Interaction). Educated in part as a regional development planner, I found it interesting that interaction researchers and designers feel a need to become involved in international development, a field more commonly occupied by regional planners and economists, politicians, and an infinite number of think-tanks. I asked Susan Dray of Dray & Associates, one of the Workshop organizers who posted the announcement about this. She replied,

    We used the term “user centered design” (rather than human centered design, also used in the field) because it is the most common moniker for the computer-human interactions (CHI) audience (and we first had to get the workshop accepted to the conference before inviting others to come.) That said, we think it’s the user-centered/human-centered process that is most critical – not only the interfaces, which are more the norm in the CHI community as the object of interest. Some people and projects do better at this than others in all spheres, from building technology to planning water projects in a village. Interestingly, the original title was “Participatory Design and International Developmen” – but in the CHI community, PD has a specific political meaning (developed by the workplace democracy folks in Scandinavia), so we decided to use the term UCD instead to avoid confusion.

    Sounds good to me: I'm a fan of interdisciplinary design whenever it occurs, for any purpose -- especially one with a concrete, global benefit: equitable development.


    User Centered Design and International Development

    A workshop at CHI 2007
    Saturday, April 28, 2007
    San Jose, California USA


    Much work in international economic and community development emphasizes empowering host communities in designing and controlling development projects. Many development projects make use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as part of their plan. However, there have been few explicit efforts to bring together the international economic and community development, user centered design (UCD) and interaction design communities to find ways of designing more appropriate and effective solutions that truly meet local needs. The aim of this workshop is to initiate such a dialogue.

    Specifically, we hope to extend the boundaries of the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) by spurring a discussion on how existing UCD practices can be adapted and modified, and how new practices be developed, to deal with the unique challenges posed by the context of international community and economic development. We call this User Centered Design for Development or UCD4D.

    This workshop will provide a space to exchange experiences, explore differences between developed and developing world contexts, to develop new partnerships, and to learn from each other about problems we have encountered, the solutions that we have proposed and ways of working that we have discovered.

    Topics that we hope to cover in the workshop include:

    • Experiences of interaction design in developing countries or with traditionally underserved populations in developed countries
    • Uses and adaptations of participatory methods in economic and community development projects
    • Cultural factors in designing for economic and community development
    • Innovative techniques for engaging users in developing world contexts
    • Examples of solutions that are sustainable in context

    We also hope to use this workshop to begin to build an international community of engaged scholars and thoughtful practitioners who understand each other and who can bridge between disciplines and boundaries to create appropriate, effective and sustainable community development solutions.

    Expected Outcome of the Workshop

    Outcomes from the workshop will be reported in the MIT Press journal, Information Technology and International Development. In addition, based upon submissions and the review process we expect to publish a special issue of the journal on the workshop themes.


    We anticipate obtaining limited funding to allow participation from those in soft-currency economies. If you need financial assistance to attend, please let us know.

    More information

    Click here for more information on the workshop. Or contact the organizers directly.


    This workshop will be open to anyone with relevant experience or interest in UCD4D and/or ICTs in international economic and community development. To participate, please submit a 2 page position paper describing your experience, findings or interests relevant to the themes of the workshop. Participants will be chosen to represent a good cross section of communities and key themes. Papers should be submitted by email to Andy Dearden. Accepted papers will be posted on the workshop website.

    Important dates

    January 12th 2007: Submission deadline
    February 1st 2007: Notification of acceptance
    April 28th 2007: Workshop

    Please note: As with all CHI workshops, at least one author of accepted papers needs to register for the Workshop and for one day of the conference itself.


    Andy Dearden - Sheffield Hallam University, UK
    Michael Best - Georgia Tech, USA
    Susan Dray - Dray & Associates, Inc., USA
    Ann Light - Queen Mary University, UK.
    John Thomas - IBM, USA
    Celeste Buckhalter - Georgia Tech, USA
    Daniel Greenblatt - Georgia Tech, USA
    Shanks Krishnan - Georgia Tech, USA
    Nithya Sambasivan - Georgia Tech, USA


    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design